Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Group - Women in the armed forces: the role of women in the Australian Defence Force
Continuing emphasis on the elimination of discrimination in the workplace, along with the need to maximise access to sufficient numbers of suitably skilled personnel in a competitive labour market has increased attention on the role of women in the Australian Defence Force.
The number of jobs open to women in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has expanded greatly since the first Army Nursing Service was established in New South Wales in 1899. Women can now be employed in approximately 88% of employment categories in the ADF. Australia recently made a partial withdrawal from its previous reservation to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the last step in a decade long process of recognising the employment of women in combat related roles. However, women are still excluded from direct combat roles in the ADF. Women also still make up only a small proportion of the ADF, and as inquiries over the last decade have demonstrated, sexual harassment remains a problem.
Major milestones in the employment of women in the ADF are listed in a chronology of women in the Australian military prepared by the Department of Defence.
Personnel statistics from Section 4 (Table 4.12) of the Department of Defences Annual report 1999-2000(1) show that women make up 12.8% of the permanent ADF (6,507 women compared to 44,248 men). The Royal Australian Air Force has the highest percentage of women at 15.1% (2,121 positions occupied by women), followed by the Royal Australian Navy with 14.6% (1,832 positions), and the Australian Army with 10.6% (2,554 positions). Women also make up 17.5% of the defence force reserves (1% of the Naval Reserve, 14.6% of the Army Reserve, and 1.9% of the Air Force Reserve). Womens participation in a combined total of the permanent and reserve forces runs at 14.2%.
Women can now be employed in 477 of the ADFs employment categories, ie, 88% of job categories are open to women, however, only 284, or 60% of categories, actually employ women. The 477 categories open to women represent 74% of all positions across the ADF(2).
Following the report of the RANs Submarine Integration Study (SIS) to the Chief of Navy, women are now serving in the new Collins Class submarines, the accommodation facilities of which provide privacy for both sexes. Collins submarine training for women started at the Submarine Training and Systems Centre on June 1998.
In December 1999, Air Commodore Julie Hammer became the first female officer to be promoted to an air rank in the history of the RAAF and to one star rank in the ADF. Several NATO nations have also promoted women to brigadier or equivalent rank or above(3).
Currently, there are no women in combat roles in the ADF, that is, women are excluded from categories of employment which are classified as direct combat duties. These are: clearance diving teams (Navy); infantry, armour; artillery and combat engineers (Army); and airfield defence guards and ground defence officers (Air Force). In addition, for occupational health and safety reasons, women are excluded from some employment categories, such as surface finishing and electroplating within the Air Force which involve the use of embryo-toxic substances.
In 1983 Australia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) with two reservations, one of which supported the exclusion of women from combat related duties and combat duties. The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 granted an exemption to the ADF in respect of combat or combat related duties. Ironically, despite the aim of eliminating discrimination against women, the result of these exemptions was that women who had been employed in combat related duties, such as certain transport duties in the Royal Australian Corps of Transport and in the Royal Australian Engineers in the Army, were unable to continue to be employed in these roles.
In November 1992, the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel explained in answer to a Question without Notice that in May 1990 the Hawke Government had announced that women would be able to serve in combat related positions. At that time 94% of RAAF positions were open to women, but they were then still excluded from positions as air crew on FA18s, PC3s and F111s, as well as air defence guards. In the RAN, as well as being excluded from navy clearance diving, women could not crew submarines, and they were excluded in practice from some surface ships which required modification to accommodation spaces. In the Army, the categories of armour, artillery, infantry and combat engineers were still closed.
In December 1992 the Keating Government announced that women could serve in all army, navy and air force units, except direct combat units. Section 43 of the Sex Discrimination Act was amended in 1995 to reflect this change.
The Howard Government marked International Womens Day 2000 with the announcement that Australia would be partially withdrawing its reservation to CEDAW relating to combat related duties. Australias reservation to the convention now reads:
and deposited the following reservation:
The National Interest Analysis , tabled in Parliament on 7 April 2000, explains Australias new position and the reasons for the partial withdrawal.
In his speech to the Women in Uniform conference in May 1999, the Hon Bruce Scott, Minister for Veterans Affairs and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence, referred to the need to have a critical mass of women in some specialisations and to provide adequate social and psychological support to women to enable them to reach their potential.
The Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Chris Barrie, gave a speech to the 12th Women, Management and Employment Relations Conference in July 2000 in which he characterised the issue of women in the military as a pragmatic initiative, rather than a social policy initiative. Admiral Barrie also discussed the role of women in the ADF during his opening speech to the Women in Uniform conference in May 1999.
In a speech to the Defence Womens Network in December 1999, the Defence Secretary, Dr Allan Hawke, outlined Defences policies relating to the role of women in the ADF, including the issue of women in combat and the integration of women into the Submarine Squadron.
The Department of Defence has reported that competencies for employment categories and critical mass limits are being developed before bringing forward proposals to open up further employment categories to women. In August 1999, the Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence agreed that competencies should be developed for engineers, artillery, armour and infantry (including airfield defence guards). The Navy is still considering the issue of the employment of women as clearance divers(4).
Previous instances of bastardisation at the Royal Military College and recent allegations of brutality in the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, if true, demonstrate that women are not the only victims of harassment. However, as recently reported surveys of six defence bases have confirmed, and as the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commissions recent ruling on damages to a former RAAF member demonstrates, women in the ADF are still subject to sexual harassment and sexual assault. Two incidents during the last decade which have generated adverse publicity for the ADF were:
In 1996 Major Kathryn Quinn of the Australian Army Psychology Corps published a report, Sexual harassment in the Australian Defence Force, a comparative assessment of results from the 1987 and 1995 ADF career and family studies.
The ADF and the Defence Department policy on discrimination states that the Defence Organisation has a zero tolerance attitude to sexual harassment. The Defence Equity Organisations (DEO) Internet site also includes a Sexual assault information pack: a guide for survivors peers and managers.
A comparison between Australia and NATO nations using 1998-99 figures claims that Australia is at the forefront in womens participation in the military, with the United States a very close second in percentages(7).
NATO: In 1976 the NATO Military Committee formally recognised the Committee on Women in the NATO Forces, an advisory body on critical issues affecting women in the Alliances forces. Women serve in the armed forces of the majority of NATOs member nations.
Canada: In 1989 a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered the Canadian Forces to fully integrate women into all occupations by 1999. In addition, demographic data forecasts have indicated that the Canadian Forces (CF) traditional recruiting base is shrinking.
Figures given in the second chapter of the 1999 report of the Canadian Minister for National Defences Advisory Board on Canadian Forces Gender Integration and Employment Equity indicate that according to a 1997 survey, the Canadian armed forces have the potential to achieve a minimum of 28% female representation. At the time women made up 13% of the regular force and the primary reserve. The 1998 Evaluation of gender integration in the CF found that the total increase in the representation of women in the military since 1989 remains modest. Canada was the first NATO country to open all occupations to women, although others (Norway, Denmark and Belgium) have since followed.
A report on the experience of women who have served in the combat arms, made to the Chief of Land Staffs Gender Integration Study in 1998, indicates that the Canadian Army has experienced difficulty in attracting women into, and retaining them in the combat arms and related occupations.
Germany: After a ruling in 2000 by the European Court of Justice in favour of a case brought by Tanja Kreil, and following the necessary changes to German law, the German government has opened combat units of the German armed forces to women. The European Court ruled that: 'Council Directive 76/207/EEC of 9 February 1976 on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women as regards access to employment, vocational training and promotion, and working conditions precludes the application of national provisions, such as those of German law, which impose a general exclusion of women from military posts involving the use of arms and which allow them access only to the medical and military-music services.' The judgement, however, confirmed that there can be special exceptions for 'special combat units' following its previous decision in the Angela Sirdar case, brought by a British servicewoman against the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence regarding her inability to transfer to the Royal Marines as a chef.
New Zealand: The military balance: 2000-2001(8) lists New Zealand as having 9,230 active military personnel of whom 1,340, or 14.5%, are women. The NZ army has 550 women in a force of 4,450 (12.3%), the women make up 430, or 15.3%, of the 2,800 positions in the air force, and 360, or 18.8%, of the 1980 positions in the navy.
United Kingdom: Despite the UK Armed Forces being an equal opportunities employer, servicewomen in the United Kingdoms armed forces currently represent only 7.9% of the total strength. 96% of posts in the Royal Air Force, 73% of Royal Navy and Royal Marines posts, and 70% of British Army posts are open to women, with a further 1300 posts in army and navy specialist units attached to the Royal Marines to be opened to women. Women are currently excluded from posts whose primary role in battle is to close with and kill the enemy and from service on submarines and as naval clearance divers(9). Field trials were held in the northern autumn to test the feasibility of women soldiers being allowed to serve in combat situations.
United States: A November 1998 US General Accounting Office (GAO) study on gender issues and the perception of gender inequalities in the US armed forces states that women make up 14% of the armed forces, up from less than 2% in 1973.
A September 1999 GAO study, Trends in the occupational distribution of military women, reported that as of September 1998, 90% of US armed forces career fields and 80% of the 1,425,000 positions were open to women. Women remain excluded from assignments to units below brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.
Since 1993 women have been able to serve on combat aircraft, and since 1994 on US combat ships except submarines. However, the GAO study identified institutional barriers that limit the number of women going into occupations which theoretically are open to them. For instance, some units are closed to women because of departmental or service policies even though the units contain occupations open to women. The study found that a large percentage of women officers in the US armed forces continue to work in the areas of health care, administration, personnel and supply occupations, however women are beginning to enter non-traditional fields such as aviation, surface warfare, air traffic control and field artillery.
The integration of women into the submarine community was recently recommended by the Defence Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS). A response by a former Chief of Naval Operations to suggestions in a recent article in the June 2000 issue of the United States Naval Institute Proceedings journal which suggested that women should be allowed to serve in US submarines demonstrates that the debate on the role of women in the US military is by no means over.
Defence Equity Organisation: a part of the Australian Department of Defence.
DACOWITS: United States Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services.
H-Minerva: women in the military, women and war discussion network.
Women and combat bibliography: a centenary of women in the Australian Army
1 Department of Defence. Defence annual report 1999-2000. Canberra, [the Department], 2000. P.292. http://www.defence.gov.au/budget/99-00dar.htm
3 Garcia, Sarah. Military women in the NATO armed forces in Spurling, Kathryn & Greenhalgh, Elizabeth (eds). Women in uniform: perceptions and pathways. [Canberra], School of History, Australian Defence Force Academy, 2000. P.229.
5 Department of Defence, Report to the Senate on the Elimination of Sexual Harassment in the Australian Defence Report. December 1995, cited in Anderson, David. The challenge of military service: defence personnel conditions in a changing social context. Department of the Parliamentary Library. Background Paper No.6 1997-98.
6 Australian Defence Force. Report of the review into policies and practices to deal with sexual harassment and sexual harassment and sexual offences at the Australian Defence Force Academy. Canberra, Department of Defence, 1998.
7 Readers outside Parliament can access these figures in Doherty, Megan. Willing to be warriors, Canberra Times, 7 May 2000. For a review of the situation in NATO see Garcia, Sarah. Military women in the NATO armed forces in Spurling, Kathryn & Greenhalgh, Elizabeth (eds). Women in uniform: perceptions and pathways. [Canberra], School of History, Australian Defence Force Academy, 2000. P. 196-229.